Rural Montana and Fort Peck

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 -- Fort Peck, MT

On Tuesday we made the drive from the James Kipp Recreation Area to Fort Peck Montana. Heading north on Hwy 191, it was about 70 lonely miles to Malta -- no traffic, no towns, no rest areas, no wide spots in the road, no place to pull over to pee; just 70 miles of narrow shoulder-less asphalt that we had all to ourselves -- and a few pronghorn antelope. It crossed my mind to simply stop the bus-house, right in the middle of the road for a few minutes to take care of business, but the way my luck runs that would be precisely when other traffic would show up. Another thought I had was that this would be the perfect time to exercise the "flying driver change" -- switching drivers while on cruise-control. Needless to say the safety director nixed both ideas out-of-hand. As my bladder filled to near capacity I was re-thinking my long-held desire to get away from growing towns and congestion. There are, after all, some benefits to overcrowded areas that hadn't occurred to me before.

In Malta I found a section of road that was wide enough for a momentary stop before heading east on Hwy 2 -- the road locals call "The Hi-line". Hwy 2 was only slightly busier than 191, but it was wider and had good paved shoulders. It was really the kind of road we've grown to prefer... little traffic, smooth and well-maintained roadway, and a few real towns along the way. In other words, everything an Interstate Highway isn't.

I get the impression that most of these small towns are struggling to survive. From an economic standpoint it seems the only thing going on is either agriculture-related or small retail businesses that serve the shrinking population. We stopped in one small town -- Hinsdale, I think it was -- where the town council was there to greet us, take our picture for the monthly town newsletter, and offered us the key to the town if we'd agree to stay. A tempting offer but we are on a mission!

Continuing eastward through Glasgow to Nashua, we turned south on Hwy 117 to Fort Peck. Fort Peck is a town, a dam, and a lake. During the depression, the US Government funded the building of this massive dam on the Missouri River for the purpose of flood control and to employ a large number of people during a time when jobs were hard, if not impossible, to find. The dam created the lake and the project created the town. These days, the Army Corps of Engineers manages the dam and the associated recreational facilities which include a marvelous campground.

In the last few days I've written about the kind of places we like to camp and the Downstream Campground here at Fort Peck is another that ranks up there with the best, in my humble opinion. While it doesn't have "full-hookups" (here, we have just electric) we have the capability to be totally independent for a week or more. But the sites here are widely separated, good level asphalt pads, and plenty of trees around to provide that "camping" feel. We also have both whitetail and mule deer that are regular visitors to our campsite. We ended the day with a dramatic sunset and a good campfire.

I have a feeling we'll be here for a few more days than originally planned.



Slightly Better than Most